For the members of We Are The City, the four years since 2009's In a Quiet World have been filled with radical change, both personal and musical. They've undergone lineup alterations, relocated from Kelowna to Victoria to Vancouver, reached their 20’s, built up a fan base across the country and painstakingly honed their sound. All of this experience, both good and bad, went into making their sophomore album, Violent, out June 4 through Hidden Pony Records.
High school friends Cayne McKenzie (vocals/keyboards) Andrew Huculiak (drums) and David Menzel (guitar) began plotting this album almost as soon as the first one was done. Their future looked bright, as they won $150,000 in January of 2010 by placing first in 102.7 The Peak's prestigious PEAK Performance Project contest.
Things got put on hold, however, after Menzel left the band in the summer of 2010. The new songs were abandoned, and We Are the City — which by then included interim guitarist Blake Enemark — released their stopgap High School EP in 2011. Although not the album they originally envisioned, High School earned rave reviews and helped to expand their following, withThe Vancouver Sun giving it five stars and declaring it a "mini masterwork."
Along the way, the band continued to perfect their live chops, touring across Canada four times, playing shows throughout the U.S. with Said the Whale, and opening for the likes of Mother Mother, Sam Roberts, Tokyo Police Club, Braids and more.
We Are the City continued to gain momentum when Menzel returned, and the guys resumed work on the follow-up they had previously set aside. They wrote the rhythm parts in a pool house in White Rock, BC, later fleshing out these tunes in a teardown home known as Magic House (which was ultimately demolished) and the entire process documented by the band in video webisodes. During this process, they scrapped much of their old material and crafted a new batch of songs that reflected the life-altering changes and musical maturation of the past few years.
"This is the album that we've wanted to make for a long time — for four years or even longer," observes Huculiak. "We've been in this purgatory, where I knew what I wanted to create with Cayne and David, but how did we get there? Now we've finally gotten there."
Produced once again by Tom Dobrzanski (Said The Whale, the Zolas, Hey Ocean!) at his newly constructed Monarch Studios, Violent is an album of soaring highs and hushed comedowns, with dense syncopations going toe-to-toe with noise-soaked crescendos and delicate pop melodies. "King David" moves from aggressive distortion to gentle acoustic plucking to swirling ambience, while "Bottom of the Lake" places marimba tinkles atop a gritty guitar backdrop, and the cerebral "Baptism" builds towards the album's most thunderous climax.
Huculiak explains, "What we're interested in is contrast. Musically contrasting hooky, poppy things with very experimental ideas." McKenzie adds, "Ups and downs, louds and quiets. Negative and positive themes."
It's this sonic roller coaster that inspired Violent's multi-faceted title. The title's implications are both positive and negative, straddling the line between the beautiful and the abrasive and encompassing the full scope of We Are the City's musical maximalism. Menzel observes, "If we're choosing synonyms for 'violent,' it would probably be 'intense.'"
Violent will be followed by the release of a feature-length film written and filmed by We Are the City and Vancouver's Amazing Factory Productions in Norway. With a script penned entirely in Norwegian — despite the fact that the band members don't speak the language — this subtitled film is a companion piece to the record; the score utilizes melodic motifs from the songs, while the story shares themes with the lyrics. "The film goes as a companion to the record, but it's not a must-have," McKenzie notes. "They both stand alone."
We Are the City's restless sense of artistry has led the musicians through years of self-discovery as they have continued to strive for the next creative peak. Now that they've finally arrived with Violent and its accompanying film, there's no question that the journey has been worthwhile.